How to Make a Game – Part 9: The Game Loop (1/2)

How to Make a Game – Part 9

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How to make a game pt9

This week’s topic is the basis of all games and likely the first thing you will want to consider when creating your game. The game loop.

When I say game loop I am talking about the process a player has of starting up, playing a basic session (more on this in a moment) and finishing. For something like the board game “Checkers” (“Draughts” outside the US), the game loop is basically the whole thing. There isn’t much more than playing a round of checkers in the game Checkers. For your game though, a game loop may be one round of a narrative. It could also be a round of adventure in your RPG or a round of battles in your fighting game.

The deal here is you want to get this running as soon as possible. Why? Because you want this to be as fun and addictive as possible that’s why. That kind of addiction is not going to happen in your head, you have to see it in front of you and play it. Iterations are the way to go. Paper design, thinking, doodling, tests are all awesome but nothing, please hear me, nothing beats just making the game and seeing if it’s fun.

So, get your game loop running. Temporary art is fine. Rough art is fine. In fact, the rougher the art the better since game loops are about game play and not the look of the game. If blasting grey blocks are fun then adding in great art will only make it better. On the flipside having the best looking characters means little if the underlying game is not fun to play (see any one of a myriad of free to play FPS shooters for examples of this). One mistaken belief in games is that looks are a huge deal. They are not. The games you like you might still like even if they looked rougher and visually less polished.

I’m not here to argue good looking games aren’t important. They most certainly are and you should really put in time to polish your game but you must start with the basics. That is the core of your game… the loop.

So sit down and outline what that is and how your game structure works. This you can actually do with anything. Paper, drawing program, Excel or Visio type program. Lay out the loop and then lay out how that loop is nested into the bigger game. An example would be you have 10 levels in your game. Each level is a loop unto itself and the 10 of them make up the bigger game. Then ask yourself “Hmmm, is each level playable to a finish in one play session?” Of course, you will have to decide what a reasonable play session is but I might suggest starting with something between 3 minutes and perhaps 15 minutes. There are games with much longer loops so you are free to use your own judgment. Really though – work with something manageable. You can always add later.

Once you know the loop time you are shooting for you want to lay out rules for the game if you haven’t already. What kills the player, what hurts him, rewards him, etc? How do enemies (if you have them) affect the player? What part does the environment play? From there you will want to start blocking this out in a rough form. Don’t be afraid! Just get in there and make mistakes. You will screw up and things will not work perfectly and that is fine. The important part is you will be moving from the imaginary to the real. The real is where your game is actually played.

I assure you once you start making this first loop there will come the “great dawning” when you realize all those coffee shop doodles and discussions about how awesome and easy your game would be to make come crashing down. That is also excellent progress. You see, all that talk was just talk. You are now doing the magic of making the game.

To quickly recap:

  • The basic game loop should be your top goal early in development.
  • The game loop is not necessarily the whole game but is a representation of a typical play session
  • Block out the loop with any graphics and mechanics that get the job done.
  • The purpose of the loop is to expose and refine your early thinking about the game as soon as possible.
  • You will make mistakes but do not be afraid. Early in development is the best time to make the biggest mistakes. They are FAR less costly early than later in development.

Hope that gives you a little insight!

Remember folks – Live Your Dreams!


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